The previous issue of un Magazine observed the reinforcement of external borders following Nine Eleven. Here, our attention turns towards the collapsing logics of internal categories and departmental demarcations. We trace this line of enquiry within the context of The University of Melbourne and the introduction of ‘The Melbourne Model.’ We’re working with the understanding that, if approached from a spirit of ‘radical historicity,’ these two situations (World Trade Centre, 2001, and The University of Melbourne, 2008) can be understood as sequential. Cousins of different volumes, intensities and velocities. Two situations that produced a ‘myriad of effects and consequences [...] of power- laden and conflict-ridden social practices—e.g., the complex confluence of human bodies, traditions and institutions.’1
In 2008 The University of Melbourne implemented an institution-wide restructuring under the name ‘The Melbourne Model.’ This model was designed to provide students and staff with a ‘dynamic’ and ‘flexible’ collegiate environment, through emphasising interdisciplinarity. The Melbourne Model notably included the construction of new departments, the closure of pre-established ones and the establishment of new coursework modules with new academic and economic demands. It is important to note that these strategies aren’t exclusive to The University of Melbourne but follow a trend in tertiary education worldwide. By utilising the specificity of The Melbourne Model as a vantage point, we want to appraise amendments to the procedural administration of the University aesthetically. This instance is part of a wider initiative in rebranding precarity as opportunity, emblematic of neoliberal production now ubiquitous to the University and the professional field of art. The facet of The Melbourne Model most interesting to us was the replacement of ninety-six specialist undergraduate degrees with six generalist undergraduate ones—an internal collapse of categorisation.
Keeping the instance of ninety-six to six in mind, we’ve opted for a term to capture the aesthetic operation at work. ‘Amalgamations with economic imperatives’ identifies patterns, methodologies and points of coalescence within fluid, institutional and administrative categories facilitated by sites and contexts of power. It’s not our hope nor effort in this publication to coin a new term; rather, this language carves out a phenomena consistent in approach but diverse in application — that developing a shorthand to build relationships between disparate instances of the same project feels valuable. For example, The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is currently dissolving the departmental divisions of its acquisitions. This will have consequences on Art History—how it is written, how it is displayed, how it is received and how it is acquired. By demonstrating the specificity of the term ‘amalgamations with economic imperatives’ we are able to draw, in a diagrammatic way, a framework that brings The University of Melbourne and The Museum of Modern Art into dialogue with one another.
These, and similarly characterised histories, are the positions and contexts composing the sixteen entries presented here. Importantly, this issue of un Magazine, which adopts the University as its central axis, features contributions by undergraduate students, professors and those who operate outside of the context of the University entirely—as much as there is an outside. Among each contribution is an audit of ‘study’—study as materiality, as aesthetic experience and as an exercise in politicality.
With a similar valence to our previous issue, not all the works here consider art production and its reception. It does not, however, misrecognise them or appropriate them as such.
From the very earliest conversations regarding the development of this issue we’ve been holding two books in mind, both of which have been referenced several times by multiple writers. These are: Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (2013) and The People’s Tribunal: an inquiry into the ‘Business Improvement Program’ at The University of Melbourne (2015) edited by Marion Campbell and Philip Morrissey. One article that speaks powerfully to these two texts is an anonymous account of the current state of things in the office of the Australian Indigenous Studies department at The University of Melbourne. Sophie Chahuan discusses the ways in which she has and has not recognised the concepts developed in these texts directly in her experience of study, and Carol Que and Joel Spring also make reference to the role of ‘fugitivity’ in higher education and political organising across two separate though equivalent universities. Andrew Norman Wilson presents the syllabus of a class he taught last year at the University of California, Los Angeles, while Richard Birkett attends to a history of that same institution, writing on the Media Urban Crisis film program that was active from 1969 to 1973.
Departing not entirely from these texts, Torika Bolatagici, Paul Boyé and a collaborative piece written by the board members of Samoa House Library all provide us with lived insight on how groups can organise collectively to fulfil and substantiate areas in which traditional institutions of higher-learning fail, close or misrecognise discourses of study. Speaking to similar activities, though through art historical inquiry, Melinda Reid meditates on the viability of para- institutional learning and the pedagogical turn. Rosemary Forde provides examples of the ways in which artists, and the field, function within and for similar renovations to The University of Melbourne. Kōtare (fka Dj Sezzo) presents a comparative analysis between learning on site at the University and off site within the context of nightclubs and the internet as a context for knowledge production and exchange among peers.
The artist pages featured in this issue of un Magazine all harbour a suspicion toward the University and its lexicons. Rosemary Overell’s contribution is explicit in its critique of the relationships between real-estate industries, insurance companies, banks and Universities by highlighting their almost indistinguishable approaches to promotional media. These strategies are further embodied, performed and appropriated in the pages (and fore- edge) developed by Debris Facility Pty Ltd. Appropriating forms from early childhood learning, Kym Maxwell articulates some future practices on how to teach protest in a political climate, increasingly involving children as autonomous actors of resistance. Installation images from Michael Stevenson’s recent installation at Monash University Museum of Art speak directly to the slippage of present and future time within and outside of the University. Similarly, Ariane Jaccarini, whose work you see on the cover, utilised imagined architecture to situate our issue in a context that is ‘in but not of the University.’2
The statement of purpose of The People’s Tribunal closes with an identification of four primary tactics used to assert control over professional staff at The University of Melbourne:
- Cognitive dissonance
- On-going job insecurity
- Destruction of collegiality
- Individualization of staff.3
- Amalgamation of aesthetic perception and experience.
Hugh Childers is an artist and writer based in Naarm. His work is often underpinned by collaborations. In 1853 he founded The University of Melbourne.
Bobuq Sayed is a writer and artist of the Afghan diaspora. They are an MFA candidate at the University of Miami.
Jo Pugh is a Fijian-Indian writer, facilitator and artist based in Naarm Melbourne. Their work explores and centres queerness, brownness and marginalisation.